This week the Department for Education (DfE) announced the 12 winning bids to create the first Institutes of Technology at locations around the UK.
Backed by £170 million of government investment, the DfE claim the institutes will offer top-quality, higher level technical education, with the aim of closing skills gaps in key science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) areas.
At the City & Guilds Group, we are always pleased to see investment into high-quality technical training – and we welcome the introduction of the Institutes of Technology.
Background: Revealed: The first 12 Institutes of Technology
‘A welcome step in the right direction’
As a country with an education system firmly rooted in traditional academic paths, the formation of the new Institutes of Technology is a step in the right direction.
As skills gaps continue to widen across UK Plc, creating parity of esteem between traditional education pathways and alternative vocational routes is vital if we are to ensure the continuation of our talent pipeline for the generations to come. Employers are looking to bring young people into their workforce already equipped with the fundamental skills required for their industry – and technical training colleges and courses are the best enabler of this.
With Stem-sector skills gaps amongst the worst in the country, we need the UK’s young people to consider vocational education as a credible route into a long-term career, viewed on a par with going to university. And the 12 new Institutes of Technology certainly make for a good start in achieving this.
‘We need to reach all parts of the UK’
However, in this new announcement, it is concerning to see so many geographic “cold spots” that the institutes fail to reach. Without covering great swathes of the UK, young learners risk being shut out or void of opportunity.
While there is a high concentration of institutes in and around London, it is particularly concerning to see the omission of the whole of the North West region. City & Guilds Group’s Gen2 business, an Ofsted-graded "outstanding" training provider in Cumbria sees first-hand the severity of technical skills gaps in businesses across the area.
Last year, research conducted by the Group found that nearly half (47 per cent) of employers in the North West are struggling to recruit the skilled staff they need, with over two thirds (67 per cent) anticipating skills gaps will stay the same or get worse in the coming years.
If we are to build a system that is fit for purpose in both equipping young people with the skills they need to start their career and helping to fill the skills gaps painfully felt by businesses around the UK, it is imperative that the Institutes of Technology are accessible to all of the UK’s young people, across all areas of the country. And we must also ensure that those who are fortunate enough to live near to an allocated Institute of Technology do not have their options limited by the specialism of their local institute.
‘Investing in technical training is investing in our future’
When implemented and taught effectively, high-level technical education is one of our most powerful assets for defeating the skills crisis. By investing in vocational and technical training centres, we are in turn investing in the future of the country – training the scientists, engineers and programmers of tomorrow.
However, capital investment alone will never be enough to fill that void. We need to ensure the learning delivery models intended for the new institutes are fit for purpose; that the teachers and training methods to be employed are going to provide the successful outcomes that are so critical; and that learners understand and have access to these programmes as a route for progression.
While we welcome and commend the £170 million investment into technical training, we need to look at the stark reality. Split between at least 12 institutes, this funding will likely not go as far as we need it to – and without the right provision and set-up from the start, the institutes may not have the ability to fill the critical role they are intended for.
Martin Hottass is group director at the City & Guilds Group